Date of publish: 09/11/2020 18:15 CET
Finally, a worthy RTS covering the violent dawn of North American History.
Warfare in Colonial America required skill, strategy, and above all, the ability to survive in hostile territories far from the motherland. It was also a fascinating time of discovery, exploration, and commerce. Developed by GSC Gameworld (the makers of Cossacks), American Conquest incorporates these concepts and many more into a playable and enjoyable RTS game.
The British Are Coming!
American Conquest covers an extensive period of early North American conflict. Gamers can play any number of single-player authentic standalone battles or draw from a variety of historical campaigns covering conflicts from 1492 to 1813 AD. Unlike many RTS games where resource management can get tedious, or combat is a generic form of minutia, American Conquest does RTS right by deftly combining resource management with warfare.
In order to condense 300 hundred years of warfare between 12 nations into playable scenarios, GSC chose five authentic periods of war and created eight campaigns, adding up to a whopping 42 missions. As most current RTS games are limited to half this volume, American Conquest garners a big bang for the buck rating.
Campaigns are detailed and well thought out. They include Columbus’ Voyage, Pizarro’s Raids, The Seven Years’ War, Tecumseh’s Rebellion, and The American War for Independence. Each campaign is distinctive enough to capture the warring aspect of the period. As a bonus, American Conquest offers the ability to play campaigns from either side’s perspective. (For example, The War for Independence can be played as either the British or American forces.)
In addition to campaigns, the game provides nine different single-player missions, covering a wide range of historical content, from invading the Mayan Yucatan as Cortez’ captain, trappers hunting for Bison tongues, or the French Army marching on a British fortified town. Each mission presents a remarkable insight of past conflict.
Missions are dynamic and present a variety of objectives through combat and resource allocation. Covering both defensive and offensive operations, missions range from capturing enemy bases and conquering enemy forces, to locating allies, repulsing attacks, and exploring territories, or a combination thereof. In most cases, building a base of operations while exploring the territory before making the big push is the sound objective. In one Seven Years’ War mission, I formed alliances with various indigenous Indian tribes in order to build an Indian army, before defeating the French army.
Not surprisingly, combat is the focus of American Conquest. It’s well designed, and makes sense if you enjoy detail that’s not overbearing. Everything from tactics, unit types, unit upgrades, unit range and firepower, to troop morale are detailed components of battle, and to achieve success, the combination must be understood. All things being equal, the most important combat factor to take seriously is morale. Morale is affected by food supply, defeats (or victories), equipment, and mercenary pay. Troops taking 30% casualties start to wane and will retreat during a fight; unless, of course, morale is higher than normal.
Unlike most RTS games, the engine allows for several-thousand units to fight in any single battle. Considering the sheer number of unit types (I lost count at 100), choosing the right combination can get daunting if you don’t pay attention to unit strengths and dispositions. Making use of the right combination of range, firepower, and formations can change the outcome of any battle. Players should know the difference between a unit’s range and melee combat, and make use of them at the appropriate time to increase the chance of winning the fight.
Musketeers for Ploughshares
Though resource management is an integral part of the game, it rarely gets in the way of combat. Your job is to make sure your units have the best combination of range, combat effectiveness, and morale using tech trees designed to enhance your force structure. The game contains a myriad of building types serving a variety of purposes. Not only do they provide peasants with a means to farm, chop wood, or mine precious resources, they also furnish a means for creating troops and enhancing their combat efficiency, while implementing various unit upgrades.
Buildings also act as defensive structures for protecting troops and peasants, but don’t get too comfortable. The enemy can destroy buildings, so make sure you man them with the proper types of troops. It’s a good idea to strategically position fortresses and blockhouses at terrain chokepoints, and nearby areas offering the most protection. Tech tree implementation and management are both fluid and understandable venues for producing the finest force on the battlefield. Diplomacy is another venue for securing goods. Develop alliances with neutral Indian tribes in order to secure goods at trading posts.
In addition to an editor for long-term playability, American Conquest presents a fun-to-play multiplayer component. With up to seven players slugging it out across the LAN or Internet, combat acumen is readily tested against others in either deathmatch or historical battles. The historical maps are also well thought out, showcasing authentic reenactments at Tenochtitlan, Monongahela River, San Juan, Saratoga, or Yorktown. The game also offers a global rating system where player’s wins and defeats are recorded for all to see.
With all that is good, American Conquest does suffer from minor shortcomings. Pathfinding and unit AI can be problematic. At times, ships sailing along a river get bunched up and cannot continue. Troops move to parts of the map when they were ordered to stand fast or patrol. Other times, peasants cannot navigate around obstacles or behind buildings in order to harvest farms or chop wood. The fog of war feature is shoddily done. The map remains black in areas troops are not located, even if it’s an area already explored. Since the maps run very large, it would have been nice to see the size and scope of the area without black oozing from the screen.
As for the interface, let’s just say it predates Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Units located off the map are difficult to manage unless they’re hot-keyed. More disappointing is the complete lack of dialogue boxes necessary for controlling hundreds or even thousands of units. Thankfully, these shortcomings are not enough to hinder the overall gaming experience.
American Conquest contains all the necessary elements for a compelling RTS. It offers a wide range of historical content spanning 300 years of European supremacy. History buffs will definitely want to grab a copy, and RTS fans of all types will enjoy the variety, playability, and tactical challenge this game provides. (And they might even learn something!) With all that it has going for it, American Conquest is hard to beat.
Written by Raphael Liberatore
Original date of publish: 27.02.2003